How to be a good leader?

date: 8 December 2020
reading time: 5 min

To answer this question, we first have to define – at least, on a very general level – what modern leadership actually means, because the role of a leader has changed dramatically over time. It has evolved from being that of a boss who gives orders which are not to be questioned — to that of an efficient manager whose job is to build and maintain a well-functioning team.

Nowadays, leadership is a much more complex concept that requires many soft, interpersonal skills:

  • It’s not about delegating tasks – it’s about working with people.
  • It’s not about the leader’s own development – it’s about taking care of each individual team member as well as the team as a whole.
  • It’s also not only about work – but about creating a pleasant atmosphere and getting to know your team members better and even participating in some after-hours activities.

So, having now covered the basics, what exactly should you be doing – or avoid doing – if you want to be a good leader?


Dos and don’ts of being a good leader

Being a leader has become even more challenging these days, since a lot of companies have been forced to operate and manage their teams remotely. However, by taking advantage of some good digital tools and following the recommended best practices – it’s not that difficult. And the list of dos and don’ts below is so versatile, that it can be applied to nearly any situation.


1. Management

  • Set clear rules and expectations. Don’t expect your employees to guess what you have in mind.
    You need to be clear about what you want and make sure that your goals and expectations are well-understood. And this is something that should not only be voiced but also written down, so that everyone has a clear point of reference in case there is any confusion.
  • Build personal connections. Don’t limit yourself to professional discussions only.
    Take an individual approach – see what people enjoy and what they don’t like at all, and remember that everyone is different. Some team members may look forward to chatting over coffee, while others prefer not to be bothered. Both types are fine, and it’s your job to find a way to build unique relationships that are comfortable for everyone.
  • Hire people who are better than you. Don’t be the one who knows and does everything best.
    This is key to building an exceptional team. You have to hire specialists who are technically better in their specific areas of focus, so that you can rely on their expertise. Ask for their opinions and listen to the ideas they have, because they can be truly groundbreaking. However, you should also be able to separate the wheat from the chaff, and make firm decisions, whenever necessary.


2. Motivation

  • Be a supportive coach. Don’t give orders.
    Suggestions usually work better than orders and allow people to come up with their own arguments, especially if they don’t necessarily understand or see the relevance in a particular task. Productive discussions help you work out the most optimal solution. As a supportive coach, you can cleverly navigate and motivate your team to do their best.
  • Give individual shout outs. Don’t only appreciate your team as a whole.
    Great teamwork is one thing but success is also the result of many small, individual victories, a number of good ideas and a series of smart improvements. If you want each team member to feel like they are an important part of the group, you should also show your appreciation for them individually. Saying a few nice words to someone in front of the team will cost you nothing, but could make their day and motivate them to keep up the good work.
  • Celebrate big and small victories with your team. Don’t take all the credit.
    As a leader, you likely also have to be held accountable to other people, such as individual stakeholders, and the CEO or CTO. Showing appreciation for your team publicly in front of them is a very good practice, just as it is to celebrate the victories that you achieve together. You can do this at the office, during lunchtime, or even at an after hours event, if a bigger goal has been reached. After all, your team might have been able to complete the task or project without your help, but you certainly wouldn’t have been able to achieve your goals without them.


3. Communication

  • Foster openness and honesty.
    Be transparent, talk about any problems that come up and be ready to admit when you are wrong, or if you’ve failed at something. Also, hold your team to the same standard, so that the atmosphere is always clear, and no skeletons are waiting to jump out of the closet.
  • Give direct feedback. Don’t be two-faced.
    Tell people what you really think about their work, but always in a constructive way. You can’t say that everything looks great when it doesn’t, and this works the other way around too – don’t be overly picky or hyper critical about something that appears to be fine.
  • Ask for honest feedback about your leadership.
    As a leader, you are also an integral part of the team so don’t be afraid to get involved and ask for 360-degree feedback. Look at it as a precious opportunity to improve and develop, and to figure out how to make your team work even more efficiently.


Wrap-up

Being a good leader today requires having a lot of soft skills. It’s more about being the “primus inter pares” than it is about being a traditional boss. However, it’s also incredibly important to maintain a good professional and social balance in your relationships with your employees. This may be difficult in the beginning but after a while – once you’ve got some experience and mastered the art of working with different personalities – you will be able to hone your instincts and become the kind of leader who can lead any team to success.

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